by Dr Billy “the Dog” McGraw.
With England as we have long since learned, it is different. Somehow the standards demanded are, well, not to put too fine a point on it, lower. Lower as in, below floor level. Lower than that in fact. Sub-basement, although that still seems a bit high.
Having lost any notion that headlines might have to be accurate, or failing that entertaining, the Guardian tells us that it learned five “talking points” at the match. Sadly this doesn’t include whether they have learned that it might be a good idea to sell red wine alongside white and rose, as was the case for the cup final against Villa, but still it found five things.
The first was Gareth Southgate has avoided becoming embroiled in a national scandal or humiliation thus far. Wow! Oh yes!! That warrants, well not exactly emerging from the sub-basement but at least finding a torch to illuminate the dark. It might not have a battery in it, but hey, one step at a time.
In this same first category there is also that note that England had an honourable defeat by an improvised Germany team. How so honourable?
The test of “how so?” is whether any Arsenal defeat by anyone ever has ever be called Honourable in the Guardian. I can’t remember that, so I am starting to suspect double standards, and have no confiscated the torch. Even without the battery it seems it is a luxury too far.
Still on point one we are told that Southgate “has made some bold selections, defetishised the captaincy and suggested he is a man with a plan and the strength and clarity of thought to implement it. The true tests lie ahead but Southgate has made a fair start.”
And the evidence is that we… lost to Germany, the away fans are under investigation by Fifa the arbiters of morality, and we beat a country with a football league about 0.001% the size of England’s, and a population of under three million. Half of whom are women. On this basis sub-basement is far to elevated a position. The coal cellar beckons.
But let us move on the point two.
2) Big crowd contributes to harmless fun
“At Wembley there were, at least, no war chants or loutish nonsense and silence prevailed throughout the Lithuanian national anthem, which was followed by respectful applause from the hosts. The minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the Westminster attacks was also observed with decorum, as was the tribute to the late Graham Taylor.”
Can we just understand this. The situation in England is now so bad that silence for an opposition team’s anthem, for the victims of an utterly appalling terror attack in the same city as the game is played in, and in memory of an ex-England manager, are all seen as signs of PROGRESS???????
I am reminded of the story of the child who got 1 out of 100 in a maths exam. His parents were called in to the school and the father asked how the boy got at least one mark. “That was for putting his name on the paper,” said the teacher, “although sadly he spelled it wrong.”
So now, even achieving the most basic basic basic common decencies of civilised behaviour warrant high praise. Apparently the crowd thereafter was good-humoured (ah I see, a chance to knock the Emirates where it is apparently often the opposite – although not where I sit). And yes, “The sight of Jermain Defoe leading out the team with five-year-old Bradley Lowery was also lovely.” It was and a millionaire giving five minutes of his time for a seriously ill child is better than him not doing it, but never be fooled this this is enough. Football could always do so much more.
But then we are told “Arsenal representative makes little impression.” No collective resume of any other club, but first a list of the Arsenal players who were not there: Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck. And the list from other clubs? Nope.
Which left Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who “did not seize the initiative.” He was “not particularly sharp or inventive”. Now we have a comparison with players who were not playing, all of whom we are told would have done more than the Ox if they had been given the chance. And how does the writer know?
Yet Alli might be considered (although was not mentioned in the coal cellar) “comprehensively awful” (according to one correspondent). So what we have is Arsenal singled out beyond all clubs for a) not having four of their players in the team and b) having one who the correspondent thought was not good enough.
But let us not forget that this article is one about improvement and England showing “hints of progress”. So I am sure that by point four we will have some sign of that. And point four is “Hart does little to inspire confidence”.
Aside from taking part in the coin toss, Joe Hart basically had two jobs to do in his first home match as captain and he did not do either very well.
But still we have the fifth and final point. We will surely be rescued here. And in fact, having written down all the Arsenal players (most of whom were not playing) we get a list of players who were utterly masterful in beating the overwhelmingly almighty Lithuania. The team that is, wow, amazing, incredible, 107th in the world.
And we thrashed them (forget the score); we thrashed them because of Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Marcus Rashford and Kyle Walker, and it was so amazingly wonderful that we beat them 2-0 and the manager hasn’t been sacked for selling himself to the first journalist to offer him a fiver.
And we did that despite having the handicap of having an Arsenal player on the field.
So we will win the world cup after all, and Solar System cup, and the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy Cup and the Universe Cup, and the Alternative Universe Cup and the Multi-Universe Alternative Realities Cup (sponsored by the Guardian’s football writing team who have seemingly already been there).
“Hints of progress” ok if you can spot them, but no, the sub-basement and the coal cellar are far too good for anyone who could write that sort of stuff. In fact the Marianas Trench would be too elevated for the Guardian on this display.
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